Saturday 16 December 2017

Two boxing greats primed for Titanic battle dockside

Eamon Carr

Two enormous giants dominate the Belfast landscape. They are Samson and Goliath, the hulking steel cranes that testify to the city's shipbuilding history.

Come September, on the dockside of the nearby Titanic Centre the destiny of the IBF world super bantamweight belt will be decided when unbeaten local boxer Carl Frampton challenges the champion Kiko Martinez.

As fight fans know, these two have form.

In February last year, the pair disputed the European title in a torrid contest that seemed evenly matched until in the ninth round Frampton delivered a knock-out blow. For the first time in his career, Martinez had been stopped. Frampton was king.

Since then Martinez has gone to Buenos Aires, New Jersey, Valencia and Osaka and in each city unleashed the destructive power for which he's infamous. He claimed and defended the world title.

Now he wants to address the only knock-out he's suffered in his 35 fights. He wants to defeat Frampton in Belfast.

"I am champion of the world," he says. "I had a bad night the last time I was here. But things will be different this time. I am ready. I've a better team. My defence is better. I'm stronger physically. Mentally I'm stronger too."

Frampton hasn't been idle. he successfully defended his European title and demolished Mexican Hugo Cazares in the second round of their WBC title eliminator in April.

Unbeaten in 18 fights, 13 of which were won by KO, and with a world title within his grasp, he's in bullish mood.

"We've been chasing a lot of champions, Leo Santa Cruz included, but those guys didn't want to fight me," he says. "Kiko deserves credit for coming back to Belfast. I'm showing him respect. I'm not taking anything for granted. He's improved as a fighter. I've definitely improved. There's going to be fireworks. But this is a fight I'm going to win. It's my time to become world champion."

Interest in this world title fight is such that promoter Barry McGuigan is building a specially tiered 16,000 seater arena on the slipway of the Titanic Centre. "It will be spectacular," promises McGuigan. "The location will look sensational when screened in a hundred countries worldwide. The atmosphere will be incredible. There'll have been nothing like this before."

Martinez, now with Maravilla Boxing, has fought in hostile environments all over the world. It seems like he's been around for ever. But he's 28, just a year older than Frampton. Seven years ago, it was expected that he'd be intimidated by the intense atmosphere in the old Point Depot but that night he took just 86 seconds to leave European champion Bernard Dunne in a dazed and bloodied heap in the corner.

How will Frampton cope with the pressure of what will build to become the biggest night of his sporting career?

"There's been pressure on me since the start of my career," says the Belfast man. "From as early as two or three fights in my career, Barry was saying I was going to be a world champion. He believes it. This is the first time I've fought for a world title. Of course there will be pressure in front of a massive crowd. This is a tough fight. People expect me to win this fight. It's not going to be as simple as that. He's a hard man. I know how he fights. I know everything about him. He's aggressive. He comes forward. I've dealt with it before. I know I can win this fight."

McGuigan observes, "There are fighters who are diminished by pressure and there are others who thrive on it. This guy thrives on it. The bigger the occasion the better he gets. He loves pressure. That's what makes this kid so unique."

As the boxers depart for their respective training camps in preparation for what's being billed as their Titanic Showdown, the shadow of two other giants loom over this historic event.

"I have to thank the First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, for the assistance the Northern Ireland Executive has given us in staging this global event. We're breaking new ground with this event."

Tickets go on sale Saturday July 5.

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